Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Posts tagged ‘Social Justice’

Photo Challenge, Quest: Hero’s Journey for Social Justice

WordPress assigned this week’s photo challenge as “quest,” and when I think about quest, I immediately recall Joseph Campbell’s PBS series on the hero’s journey. The adventure begins in the everyday world, when a herald calls the hero or heroine to action. Mentors along the way reassure the hero, as the quest continues. The heroine is tested as she faces a final ordeal. The way home can be fraught with danger, but in the end, the heroine has succeeded because she has had the courage to stand up for a noble cause.

Those who make the journey on the path toward social justice face enormous odds to create a society that respects and cares for all people. Ordinary people are drawn to speak up for what’s right, marching in the streets, often proclaiming an unpopular belief. Detractors label them as “troublemakers” and “rabble-rousers.” Authorities engage armed legions to contain and control demonstrators, even when protesters are unarmed and peaceful. The media catch one individual engaging in undesirable behavior and then demonize the entire protest.  Despite all obstacles, the hero persists and continues the mission to create a just society.

Weekly Photo Challenge, Quest

Photo Challenge: Spare

Say, don’t you remember, they called me Al
It was Al all the time
Why don’t you remember, I’m your pal
Say buddy, can you spare a dime?
–E. Harburg, J. Gorney

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West Philadelphia, Summer 2015

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Spare

Democracy Spring: The Philadelphia Story

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On the lawn in front of Independence Hall, Philadelphia, a crowd gathered to support and to send off 150 activists, who plan to walk the 140 miles to Washington, D.C., launching a civil disobedience campaign, Democracy Spring. The goal of the march: “Congress must act now to end the corruption of money in politics and ensure free and fair elections.”

The enthusiastic crowd responded to a series of speakers and performances that called on elected officials to support their initiative, an equal voice for everyone. The rally is Washington is set for April 11 at the Capitol Building and organizers have said that thousands have pledged to sit-in for seven days. Over 100 organizations have signed on in support of Democracy Spring.

Overturning the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which has resulted in big-money interests buying elections, corrupting the political process, is fundamental to keeping democracy sound.

In Remembrance of Megan

Megan

Megan McFadden

March 9, 1981-August 29, 2015

IMG_1803When someone so young passes from this earth, the shock reverberates for days, weeks and months, as it seems impossible that Megan will no longer be with us.

As Megan came into my life, I watched her as a year went by, and I saw how she was working through the difficulties of her past to move forward into a new day. We thought this new beginning would be bringing her success with her art. 

We will miss you, Megan. We’re so sorry.

Her Father’s Eulogy

When you have a drug-addicted child or sibling, you live in dread of the phone call that tells you she has overdosed and died in some abandoned house. My son Jim, her best friend, and I got that call on August 29th about Megan.

Rather than mourn over Megan’s tragic death at 34, let’s celebrate what was wonderful about her. She was a sweet, beautiful, and funny little girl. She had an adorable little speech impediment until she had it fixed at therapy in first grade. We had a squirrel that visited us on the deck of our apartment almost daily. We asked her for a good name for him. She said, “Mistoow Sqwool.” From that good day on, he was Mr. Squirrel, “Mistoow Sqwool” to Megan.

Megan was all her life a gifted artist and was passionate about it and lived for it. She was enrolled in school to pursue and enrich her passion, but was taken from us just before she was to begin.

She left a great legacy with her son Michael, who has brought great joy to every person he’s known in his 13 years. Good job, Megs.

The only consolation that we, her family, friends, and all the people who knew her, was that she was a person of great worth. What we can take from her death so young, is the knowledge that her pain and struggles are over, and the belief that she will find the peace with her heavenly Father that she was unable to find in this life.

Pro-Act Recovery Walk, Philadelphia, September 19, 2015

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Philadelphia Photo League

Philadelphia Photo League Photographers, Konrad Jones, Mike Browna, Spencer Lewis

Several weeks after Megan’s passing, I received a notice from the Philadelphia Photo League about an upcoming event, the Pro-Act Recovery Walk. In 2012 a group of area photographer/activists, who were committed to social change through documentary photography, established a mission to assist civic organizations to affect change through photography. Photo League members have photographed the Recovery Walk in past years and shared their photographs with the Pennsylvania Recovery Organization–Achieving Community Together. By participating in this year’s photography project, I hope that I might help in some small way to document the event.

Morning has Broken

As I approached the staging area at the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing, the sky appeared gray and dark as the fog began lifting from the Ben Franklin Bridge. As the presenter led a prayer from the stage, the clouds opened to a magical reflection on the river. Sun beams streamed down to the water–it was as if the universe was blessing the gathering.

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Participants in their colorful t-shirts began gathering in front of the stage. The photographers took photos from the vantage of the stage, and then we split up to cover different aspects of the walk. I took a position at the start of the parade on the Chestnut Street Bridge under the balloon arch. As marchers began to stream under the arch, I began to video the walk. What amazed me was the diversity within the crowd: young and old, men and women, abled and disabled and all ethnicities represented.

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The participants kept coming, walking, cheering, as those standing on the sidelines clapped.  Group after group, representing organizations advocating for recovery, passed in front of me. These people have endured the challenges of addiction. Society could mediate these tragedies by implementing social policies that bring people out of addiction without stigma. To be immersed in this experience became a humbling moment, realizing that these warriors are ready to continue their fight for freedom from alcohol and drugs. Last year 600 people died from drug overdoses. It seems that a tainted batch took Megan as well as other victims, one evening in August.

Will we stand with the 25,000 Pro-Act crusaders? Our society failed Megan, we cannot fail again.

Links

Recovery Walks

Thousands march in support of and hope for addiction recovery

ProAct: Ambassadors for Recovery

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Photo Challenge: The Unsettling Nature of Weapons

When I view guns, the visions that come to me are the imagined stories embedded in the metal. An object shaped into a weapon extinguishes life’s light and holds the memory of someone’s loss–a son, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister. We don’t know the history of these guns, but we do know that misery accompanied their journey.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Creepy

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Writing on the Wall?

Almost every civilization, including our democratic society, has constructed walls, mostly for keeping the “other” out. Sometimes the “other” is an enemy, where conquering, exploiting and enslaving citizens becomes the objective. In other cases, walls are built to keep out those whom society deems as undesirable.

A wall never works. Technology eventually catches up and produces mechanisms to scale the ramparts. Past civilizations continued to build higher and stronger fortresses, but eventually these walls were breached and societies fall, as opponents becomes hell-bent in destroying the barrier.  Walls carve a separation that perpetuates the wounds on both sides, and the effects of the wall continue to influence people’s lives in terrifying ways.

Our ancestors have been on both sides of the wall, as conquer and vanquished. Will we ever be able to deconstruct the barriers in our minds to realize peaceful coexistence with our neighbors and put a stop to our perpetual compulsion of building and destroying walls?

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
–Robert Frost, Mending Wall

St. Malo

St. Malo, walled city in Brittany, France. Built in the 12thC, rebuilt in the 17thC, destroyed during WWII, and again rebuilt by 1960.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wall

Gone, but Not Forgotten: Incident at Bugtussel

I studied the ground before me and was startled at what I saw . . . for over forty years, the land had held the memory of the little house that once stood there.

Outline of house

As I first glanced over the landscape, I didn’t see anything of exceptional beauty or unique character. What I missed the earth had preserved: the outline of a home that once occupied this space.  In an upcoming blog post, Racial Incident at Bugtussel, I retell the story of an incident in my hometown in southeast Pennsylvania in the early 1970s.

Authorities lured an African-American man from his home. When he returned to his house, he found it bulldozed into a pile of rubble, all his worldly possessions ruined and buried, including a single photograph of his mother. His cats lay crushed under the torn up boards and shingles.

 

 

 

Lending a Hand

How Social Services Provide the Mechanism to Help our Fellow Citizens

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Photo Credit: Mercury Press & Media Limited Link

Did you see the news article from Australia where commuters spontaneously joined together to tilt the train so that a man could free his leg wedged in the gap? It was a heartwarming story of folks, seeing a catastrophe unfolding, pitching in to help the person who could not help himself.

In the case of the trapped commuter, the humanitarian response seems obvious. Unfortunately, the metaphor of assisting others who are on the brink of disaster, does not always carry over with the same compassionate response toward folks who must rely on social services. I am often amazed that some of the kindest and most giving people on a personal level, who are so willing to offer their help to friends and family in need, either through church groups or civil associations, turn away in contempt when it comes to their more distant neighbors and fellow citizens. It would be arrogant on our part to assume that we can understand the complexities of various disabilities, such as schizophrenia, autism, addiction, depression or bi-polar. Compounded on these disabilities are the social scars from dysfunctional families or just plain bad luck. We must not scapegoat on those who are most vulnerable. Therefore, as a society we come together to help these folks, in a concerted way, through policy and practice of social services, rather than charity.

Some feel that people on welfare or needing food stamps are getting a free ride at their expense. Media outlets with an agenda supporting corporate welfare, cast those who need help as undeserving, making up false accusations, such as their refusing to work, and this propaganda fuels the fire of hatred. If we look at the statistics, fraud and abuses are relatively minor. Sharing the facts about low fraud, however, does little to move those who have come to believe that folks that require social services are moochers. Some even point to owning a refrigerator or microwave as evidence that no one is really poor. It’s as if they want to believe the visceral and dehumanizing rhetoric regardless of the truth.

If we do nothing to help the poor or disabled, that in itself is an abuse. Government assistance is an organized attempt to offer an ethical solution to poverty, and it is in the best interests of all citizens that we attempt to ameliorate the conditions of poverty. Otherwise, we face increased illness and crime, deterioration of the family structure, and a workforce unprepared for skilled jobs. Scapegoating on the down trodden blames these victims of circumstance, most of whom were born into their situation.

It’s the multi-million dollar corporations which steal from citizens. Economic elites have significant impact on U.S. government policy, while average citizens have little or no influence. Corporations hire lawyers to figure every way to dodge our taxes, while still benefiting from working on U.S. soil.

I believe in pulling together to tilt the train to help those caught in the throes of poverty, illness or despair. We must support each other for the health of the society and for ourselves, as it is in our own self-interest to help others. We are all workers, and an injury to one is an injury to all.

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Bringing Voice to Community Needs: A Collection at Swarthmore College

Collection 5.2.14This Collection was unique: a grassroots initiative with staff, faculty and students working together to offer all community members an opportunity to speak on decision-making and governance at the College.

Organized by the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), the idea for the Collection grew from their advocacy for a child care benefit. In the previous week, SLAP and Human Resources released survey data from the dependent care survey of faculty and staff at the College. Of the 28% who responded that they used childcare, 41% of that number claimed that they were unhappy with their current child care arrangements. More than half of the respondents preferred an on-campus child care placement. In 1991 the Women’s Concerns Committee submitted a survey, and spent the next 14 years advocating for child care for faculty and staff. The question SLAP and the community had to consider: if the community supported a child care benefit, why hadn’t that benefit been implemented, especially since funding had been provided?

The Collection, facilitated Joyce Tompkins, Religious and Spiritual Life Advisor, brought together a panel to begin the discussion on decision-making processes and endowment spending at the College.

Gathering

Joyce Tompkins introducing Panelists

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Donna Jo Napoli, Linguistics Professor, advocate for child care

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Peter Collings, Physics Professor

Peter recently wrote a series of articles on the endowment in The Phoenix:
The inequity of Swarthmore’s endowment: An open letter to the Swarthmore College community
The inequity of Swarthmore’s endowment, revisited
Why endowment policy needs community input

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Gwen Synder, Class of 2008

Gwen Synder is Director at the Philadelphia branch of Jobs with Justice.

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Anna Gonzales, Editor in Chief, The Phoenix

Brett Day, Staff from Dining Services (unfortunately Brett could not make it because of difficulty arranging for child care).

It is the hope that this Collection will be a catalyst for the College community to work toward participation and transparency, as now neither faculty, staff or students have voice when it comes to financial decision-making. Truly enlightened institutions will foster coöperation that can only come by encouraging participation in decision-making as an inclusive practice that educates students in the process of genuine democracy and brings community members together to work in partnership with each other.

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More photographs at the Daily Gazette.

Proposal to Meet Staff and Faculty’s Child Care Needs at Swarthmore College sent to the College administration in May 2014.

Sister Teresa Forcades at Red Emma’s in Baltimore

I follow Facebook pages for Red Emma’s and Sister Teresa Forcades and was so excited to read their recent joint posting:

Just announced!
Teresa Forcades, radical feminist nun, anti-austerity organizer, and advocate for an autonomous Catalonia

speaking at Red Emma’s the very next day. While I was in Barcelona, Spain, I attended an event, Women, Spirituality and Social Change, and met Sister Teresa (see post here), so to have an opportunity to see her again right in our neighborhood of the world, I wasted no time getting train tickets my son John, who writes for The Industrial Worker, and me to travel to Baltimore.

Red Emmas

Emma Goldman: Courageous Advocate for Worker Rights

Emma Goldman 1886  *Wikipedia

Emma Goldman 1886 *Wikipedia

Red Emma’s, a worker cooperative started in 2004, supports a bookstore, restaurant and community space and is “dedicated to putting principles of solidarity and sustainability into practice in a democratic workplace.” The namesake of the cooperative, Emma Goldman, a political activist known for her promotion of anarchism, is another woman I admire for her progressive views on women’s rights, prison reform, racial equality and right to organize our workplaces. Anarcho-syndicalism best explains my political philosophy where worker solidarity, direct action and worker self-management form the basis for encouraging workers to free themselves from the hierarchical systems of bosses and managers.

Several years ago, John, along with fellow members of the I.W.W.,  paid a pilgrimage to Emma’s final resting place, Forest Home Cemetery, in Forest Park, a suburb of Chicago. Emma had been deported years before her passing, but officials of the immigration office allowed her burial on U.S. soil. Other activists are buried nearby, so she’s in good company. 

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Teresa Forcades: A Crusader against Austerity and Leader of Protest Movements in Spain

Teresa Forcades at Red Emmas

Teresa Forcades launched a political manifesto to counter austerity measures by the Spanish government. The document calls for an independent Catalonia to carry out a more democratic and progressive agenda, including nationalizing banks and energy corporations and advocating for participatory democracy, ecological restructuring, and decent wages and pensions. Any progressive could support the reforms in this remarkable document. Manifesto

The program began when Professor Navarro from Johns Hopkins University introduced Teresa to the gathering. Teresa discussed many of the points in the Manifesto and the “Indignados” movement in Catalonia and Europe.

Introduction: Prof. Navarro

Introduction: Prof. Navarro

Teresa emphasized four principles necessary for success in making social change.

1. Reactivation from below. Change has to be brought about from the bottom up.

2. Avoid centralized leadership and control. People should not look for a savior. They must work together to foster diversity and unity without uniformity.

3. Stress the urgency. A large percentage of the populations lives in poverty (30% in Catalonia) and a significant number are living at the misery line (12% in Catalonia). The misery line represents the threshold of not even enough money to buy food and shelter.

4. Engage in revolution and do it again. The revolution is not over with a few reforms. Citizens must take part in decision-making. The constitution should be an evolving document as changes are needed for social reform.

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Conversation

After the question and answer discussion, I talked with Teresa and introduced John. I invited her to come to Swarthmore College as I know the students would be inspired by her dedication to social justice. I never expected that Teresa would be visiting in our area, so I have great hopes that we will see each other again in the future.

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